Actions speak louder than words

A fair idea acted upon is better than a brilliant one never acted upon. The purpose of any business is, simply put, to develop and make money. And how’s that going to happen if you don’t take action? Why do we have a corporate culture where an abundance of reports are written on how things should be done in theory and then –

If you overdo the contemplating part you will never get anywhere.

If you overdo the contemplating part you will never get anywhere.

only sometimes – acted upon?

Or worse acted upon to the detriment of not only the company but society as a whole. A contributing factor to the global banking crisis was academic people without enough experience having theories that unfortunately didn’t work out in reality.

Why complicate things?

Confusius was right when he said that life is really simple but we make it complicated. And writing theoretical reports instead of acting is a very good example of that.

Conditions are never perfect

Sometimes reports are produced to avoid doing something that companies know has to be done, but really want to avoid. The reports then show share holders that they are doing something and become an excuse for not taking action until conditions are perfect. And they never will be. Passive companies are not going to be winners but active ones are. The only thing you will achieve by postponing action is losing time and money.

What happened to common sense?

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes reports are needed to get optimal results. But for the majority of businesses in this world, does it really make sense to spend a lot of money on writing theoretical reports? What happened to common sense? Most things are actually pretty basic. How much money do you need to bring in to make profit? How will you get that kind of revenue? In most cases you don’t need to write a report to determine that. For most businesses a few meetings, discussions and agreement on a plan of action is sufficient. You swiftly notice when things aren’t working out as planned and then you just change tactics. It has actually happened that I have told companies that what they need is not a report on how to do it, but simply act to get more customers and increase sales. You can argue that I should have produced an expensive report instead of being honest, but you don’t keep clients that way. If you make them pay for what they do not need, it’s just a question of how long it takes before you loose them.

Maybe it’s easy for me since I started my career in journalism and know how to get the information I need and then act to get results. And the same applies to business, I find the information I need, adapt it to the situation at hand and then take the appropriate action.

How many reports are acted upon?

Writing reports is a Western phenomena that has unfortunately spread. Don’t know how many times I have heard about conglomerates, for instance in the Middle East, that have hired an academic to write reports. They mostly spend a lot of money on it but the reports conclusions are seldom acted upon. Wouldn’t it have been better to simply take action to improve, for instance, sales, acquiring new customers, developing products and collecting money? Doing that you would also bring in money.

Start-ups that spend months writing detailed analysis on how to best do what they are going to do frequently run out of money and have to close or, worse, go bankrupt.

Have always applied action style leadership to get results. In business I like to surround myself with action-oriented people. Naturally I do contemplate and analyse but my main focus is on action and I do believe that’s where we need to be in this world to achieve something. If you overdo the contemplating part you will never get anywhere. And how long will you be in business then? Every day thousands of good ideas are buried because people are afraid to act upon them. Got a good idea? Then act upon it!

(Photo: cpask Photo Xpress)

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93 Responses to “Actions speak louder than words”

  1. David Dunworth Says:

    Dear Catarina,

    A nice statement from your blog, and it is very true, the intellectual capital of an idea can be valued, dependent upon the level of action that is placed upon it. The best idea is worthless unless it is acted on and perfected. Take a look at Ford, Edison or Bell. They each had an idea, and acted upon them. Each of them failed miserably, over and over again until one day, things went right. It wasn't that their idea was flawed, their plan was. Once they adjusted their plans and continued in pursuit of their idea, even though they had to continually modify their plan, their idea rang true over time.

  2. Krishna, UK Says:

    In this current world, everyone is talking about If you have any ideas and act upon it. But, why dont we take any steps to nurture ideas / talent to the people by showing right directions / path.

    I believe, most of the people who are successful , some where at some point of time some people showed right direction at the right time.

    I really appreciate if you could able to post any information in this regard. This will be much grateful to wider audience via your blog.

    Best Regards,
    Krishna

  3. Robert Dagnall Says:

    Part of Google's philosophy to spur innovation: "Fail Quickly".

    Your post also reminded me of a wonderful quote by George S. Patton: "A good plan, violently executed today, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

    Best regards,

  4. GuyW Says:

    A good article, Catarina!

    As you say, if you wait for perfect conditions, you'll never act as conditions will keep changing…

    Why is common sense, so called – it seems a most uncommon commodity?

    Best wishes for the Festive Season and 2010 – keep up the great work!

  5. catarinaalexon Says:

    Agree with you David.

  6. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good point that common sense is an uncommon commodity!

  7. catarinaalexon Says:

    General Patton was absolutely right – and so is Google for that matter. And, as we know, Google is currently one of the most successful companies in the world.

  8. catarinaalexon Says:

    Agree with you Aya. And that makes it even worse that so much money is being spent on reports that are seldom, if ever, acted upon.

  9. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you like my articles and that we agree on the importance of having the action habit.

  10. catarinaalexon Says:

    Krishna, I don't believe you can teach people how to get ideas and act upon them. It all boils down to imagination, common sense and courage. At university you are taught to write reports that in theory show what to do. Experience teaches you the difference between good and bad ideas, to some degree. But how do you teach people to have courage? Maybe military training under severely hard conditions?

  11. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes, Ford, Edison and Bell understood they had great ideas and had the courage to act upon them even though they failed miserably innumerable times. What would have happened if they just wrote reports on what they should do?

  12. Mike Freeston Says:

    Thanks Catarina for the article….

    Maybe the universities should be teaching common sense, but you are either born with it or not! Thank God or what would they need Business Schools and reports for….numerous companies/govts around the world have stacks of reports sitting on shelves idle, usually made to defer action or support their view…

    I agree that ideas are easier to achieve but action is difficult this is where the risk is…anyway I won't babble on…a quote I have seen before but do not know the author…

    "RISK – You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore…"

    Keep the stories coming…and all the best to you for 2010…

  13. catarinaalexon Says:

    Agree with you Mike.

    The problem is courage, which most people don't have. When people/companies try to avoid risk not only is it boring without a challenge the company/person doesn't develop either. Am not advocating playing roulette with a company/your life but you have to risk to gain. If nothing else you will learn from your mistakes and move on.

  14. Thom de Bruijn Says:

    Catarina.
    Filling in my heated live with cool showers of thoughts I had too, is the result of lot of your articles.
    I had them, but you are able to use them as fresh nourishing materials.
    I always say if Barney, the most famous Dutch dartplayer has difficulty in throwing 3 darts from a kind of close distance to a numerous fixed small points, to reach in 7 to 10 steps his goal and is able to enjoy thousands of people with that, why do we think that knowing something very complex issue is easy to fullfill at long distance in only one way in not more than three steps and needs not much rewards .
    Another metaphor from daily reality; theory has no gravity.

    Thanks I can show some of my own wisdom as comments in your articles and I am happy that after teaching that,now I use it for myself, my product and my company.

  15. catarinaalexon Says:

    Interesting thoughts Thom.

  16. keepupweb Says:

    Interesting point about companies using reports to divert attention away from what actually needs to be done. Your article reminds me of advice that I received (from a U.S. Small Business Administration adviser) when I first decided to work as a self-employed consultant. I’d meet with her regularly to discuss my business plan and strategies. She told me to act on my plan and to not become a victim of “analysis paralysis”. I’ll never forget her advice.

  17. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes Sherryl it is isn't it. First time I heard about that was from a managment consultant in the US who works with Fortune 500 companies. Analysis paralysis, is a great way of putting it. So many people have it and hence never get anything done. Their fear of failure makes them failures.

  18. David Says:

    Catarina, your post is an enjoyable little exercise in parallelism, and Bond has to be one of my favorite film characters. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Christer Edman Says:

    Wow! I really like your article and posted "Just do" today in a comment on a linkedIn group which is talking about "How do you create a culture of innovation?". The comments you have got are great to and I will post a link to your article.

    An interesting notice is that I see so many synergies today and feel that everything comes to you in the right moment when you need it.

    Thanks for sharing and keep on with your interesting articles!

  20. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you Christer. Glad you like my article.

  21. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes David, glad you also like Bond movies.

  22. Catherine Lockey Says:

    Absolutely Catarina. My take on inaction: Bureaucracies love reports and meetings and get the least done. Then there are the power and control freaks who think the only way to remain valuable is to keep others uniformed. Don't forget the greedy who steal and lie while claiming they didn't know any better. Finally, there are those who think they can buy their way to the top. In each instance NOTHING gets done. Businesses like these fail – but not before they've wasted lots of money and time. This is why I love the proverb: "Even a child makes himself known by his acts…"

  23. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree Catherine.

  24. keyuri joshi Says:

    Sadly, there are many "leaders" who like the idea or the label of being a leader but don't have a clue about living the life of one. They invest in fancy gagetry or as you indicate reports, but don't follow the advice within. These ego driven individuals cause havoc in company performance and worse yet, in the psyche of company employees. Identifying a result is vital. I believe one must also identify a plan (the report) but true success is in the journey and the passions we inject into the journey. Great post Catarina…. and vital to "leaders".

  25. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we are of the same opinion Julie.

  26. Susan Oakes Says:

    Totally agree about common sense Catarina as well as your other points.Today I think there is too much focus on for example reading posts and not taking action if it applies to your business and customers.

    Regarding meeting unless there are actions taken and this does not include follow up meetings then it is a waste of time. I also think some are waiting for the perfect timing before they take action for fear of doing something. have experienced all you mentioned in the post with companies I worked for.

  27. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree Susan.

  28. Sherry Zander Says:

    Catarina, good points. The Pareto Rule is 80/20 — 80 percent planning and 20 percent execution. On average, that's all that's needed. Over-planning or over-executing are detrimental to launching any product or business or executing a plan of action. And meetings are necessary, but action must follow, just as when you make a commit, actions must follow. I would liken it to giving your word to someone. If you don't follow with the committed action, you lose credibility. In some case, you could lose lots of your own, or someone else's, money.

  29. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree Sherry. However, any salesman who spends 80 percent of his time planning will swiftly be out of a job.

  30. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thanks. Never-the-less, I do believe many, above all,small,business owners don't devote enough time to "selling" i.e. getting more customers. And the results are fatal. :)

  31. Lubna Says:

    The greatest danger in the corporate world is 'herd think'. People say aye,aye…just to be one with the crowd. Thus, common sense vanishes into thin air. Oh, I so agree about long winding reports, crisp action points and a management that will quickly act upon it, is what is required. Nice post, Catarina.
    My recent post Nebador series: Book six – Star station

  32. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thanks Lubna. Glad we agree.

  33. Susan Cooper Says:

    I love this article. Report writing often is a way to avoid taking action. It is analysis paralysis to the max. I have seen this in action way to many times and have been affected by it's result with a company, in affect, going out of business, resulting in hundreds losing their jobs. I remember asking if a report/reports were pertinent to what our mission was and was told, point blank, that it was not an appropriate question… really!?!?
    My recent post Cycles Gladiator Pinot Grigio 2011: Wine

  34. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree with what I wrote in my article, Susan. Why doesn't your experience surprise me:-)

  35. Mark Brody Says:

    Catarina – I love this post! You are so spot on! Opportunities are lost when talk and over-thinking enters the equation!

  36. Jeannette Paladino Says:

    I've often said that people don't read reports, they weigh them. Some people think the heavier he report the more important the content. I think it's just the opposite. If the President of the U.S. can get a one-page briefing paper on an important topic, then most of us can shorten ours, too.
    My recent post Why Google+ is Essential for Your Brand’s Visibility

  37. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree with me Mark.

  38. catarinaalexon Says:

    Spot on Jeannette. How many CEOs digest more than a brief summary?

  39. Geek Girl Says:

    This is such a great post! I wish more people would listen and act. :) By all means read the report, but then do something about it.

  40. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thanks Cheryl. Who's going to read a 1,000 page report? Not even the politicians debating such reports read them. They only get a one page summary:-)

  41. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you eventually got back on track, Radu.

  42. Keyuri Joshi Says:

    Plain and simple… a report is (should be) a means of communication that is acted upon by inspired employees who are eager to get the job done!
    My recent post Parents, Children, and Election Day Ideas

  43. akandrewwriter Says:

    It's def. a balance between over analyzing & acting before something is fully thought through. I was always reluctant to spend money on outside reports, and preferred to do my own analysis, but then that runs the risk of being too close to the project and not being impartial. That said , in terms of writing. 'Better to write, than worry whether you're getting it right.'
    My recent post The Next Big Thing week 15: Interview with an Author

  44. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good points AK.

  45. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes, but Keyuri that's seldom the case. Have you, or anybody you worked with, ever bothered to read one of those 1,000 page reports?

  46. Jeri Says:

    I'm not a business person by any means, and I fully believe that public schools should not be run like businesses, but they do share many commonalities. American schools are not run on common sense, and the higher-ups who demand meaningless reports make it very difficult to change the status quo. We live in a world of so much data and most of it is so meaningless without the proper course of action. Now if people could only agree on the proper course of action…
    My recent post Author Interview: Pay it Forward

  47. catarinaalexon Says:

    Good point, Jeri. It's from the US that the report writing trend comes from and has unfortuntely spread around the world.

  48. becc03 Says:

    As always Catarina, you know what you are talking about. I have worked for too many companies that wanted reports for every tiny little thing. Drove me to tears, I just wanted to see things get done!
    My recent post Liebster Award – Woo Hoo!!!

  49. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree with me Becc. It's much better to get things done, isn't it.

  50. Peter Egan Says:

    I've got to say Catarina, I knew I picked up on something in the first post of yours I read that I identified with right from the start. I too began my career in journalism before coming to my senses and realizing that I wanted to earn a living and live comfortably, and that I wasn't going to be doing much of either working in print media.

    I also tend to adhere to the decision-making style espoused herein. I almost never produce reports, and when I do, it is only when investors and/or shareholders demand them – an occurrence which is rare but not unheard of. Being decisive has always come naturally to me, and I encourage my employees to act on their better judgment anytime the states are not so high that to be wrong would constitute a major competitive disadvantage for the intermediate or long-term, and of course when the decision involves large expenses (I prefer to make those calls myself).

    While my business style is definitely to know your role and act accordingly, perhaps the better example to illustrate the concept had nothing to do with business, but rather a Pop Warner football team (American) I once coached consisting of 10-12 year old boys. I showed up at our first game with a playbook consisting of about 40 different offensive plays, four defensive alignments which each had 3-5 different rush/coverage packages. Upon arrival, I was informed that coaches could stand in the huddle with the kids and call the plays prior to the snap. Upon learning this, I immediately threw the playbook in the garbage can in favor of making up plays as we went along. Depending upon what the other team's scheme was coupled with the caliber of their athletes, I literally made up plays and defensive alignments on-the-spot and without any written copy to reference.

    My team finished the season 10-2, and won the league championship. We defeated both of the teams that had beaten us during the regular season in the playoffs and championship game, respectively.

    Anyway, while I'm still a very new reader, from everything I've seen so far I think it's a safe bet that this site is going on my list of sites I frequent. Keep up the great work!
    My recent post Long Beach (MS) New Home to EGAN Medical E-Commerce Fulfillment Center

  51. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you Peter, glad you agree with me.

  52. Dennis Salvatier Says:

    Common sense is something that is lacking world wide. Whether it's in business of politics, people don't seem to have that go-with-your-gut attitude anymore and prefer to go a more bureaucratic route.
    My recent post If It Aint Broke Don't Fix It

  53. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree with me Dennis.

  54. Adeline Yuboco Says:

    Wise words, Catarina!

    Only 3% of the communication we do is verbal. The other 97% is non-verbal. I believe that is the reason why people are more convinced and are willing to trust businesses more when they see lists and images of the projects that they have completed and testimonials from previous clients. Like you said, reports are fine. But they are mostly just made of theories. Just as what my mentor told me: "if you want to get a job done, give it to a busy person. Never to a person that's not doing anything."
    My recent post An Intimate Affair with Spanish Wine at the ASEAN Merchants Launch

  55. catarinaalexon Says:

    Like what your mentor said Adeline "If you want to get a job done, give it to a busy person. Never to a person not doing anything". Provided of course the busy person isn't busy writing reports:-)

  56. jacquiegum Says:

    Ah the reports…endless jabber, countless iterations of the same idea with the words placed in different parts. Can we just get on with it and institute the new product, marketing strategy, or process? I can't tell you how many times that ran thorough my head at meetings:) Sometimes, I think it's just best to jump off the cliff!! And act on it:)
    My recent post Menopause… Where’s The Justice?

  57. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad, but not surprised, you agree Jacqueline.

  58. Arleen Says:

    I am one who hates reports and really don't read them. Oh yes I have them because I think I will read them and get to them and I never do. It is better to get an overview and act on it than spend hours digging through useless information. Bottom line, have a good idea, go for you and if it doesn't work try something different. Enjoyed this article.
    My recent post Buying Behaviors: Why Women Like to Shop and Why Men Buy

  59. Beth Niebuhr Says:

    I certainly agree with acting rather than wasting time on endless reports. It’s hard to do that when you work for a company, especially if it is publicly traded. I am happiest when I run my own business and can make those decisions. Good article.

  60. patweber Says:

    My hope is someone in one of the USA government agency finds your post Catarina, and gets an aha moment from what you said, "does it really make sense to spend a lot of money on writing theoretical reports? What happened to common sense? " I'm certain you've already noticed, most of at least our country lacks common sense.

    Thanks as always for insights.

  61. catarinaalexon Says:

    Unfortunately the same applies to most government agencies all over the world. Pat. They started doing what the one and only superpower is doing which in a way makes sense but is also lamentable.

  62. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you, Arleen. Glad we agree.

  63. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes, Beth, wasting time on reports is a bad idea, isn't it, Beth. It's probably harder to avoid it in the US though than elsewhere since it's an American phenomena.

  64. jankedonna Says:

    There are times when it is good to analyze a situation, but too often reports and studies are ways to avoid action and the information in them is obsolete by the time they're published. You ask what happened to common sense? I don't know, but maybe the lack of it is what makes people reluctant to act.
    My recent post Inside Human Rights

  65. yearwoodcom Says:

    Hear, hear! Having worked in and with government for several years, I cringe when someone suggests that a report is required. Action is a terrifying idea for some, but the stagnation that so often accompanies the creation and release of a report is by far more disturbing to me. Who ever had a statue erected because they wrote brilliant reports?

  66. lenie5860 Says:

    Catarina, this is so true. Right now we have a provincial government that constantly talks about setting up committees to develop a plan and then a committee on how best to implement the plan. What a waste of time. If they would only recognize the need – in most cases quite obvious – and act to remedy to problem – time and money saved. How simple.
    My recent post Beat the MicroBead – Get the App

  67. Tim Says:

    In a previous life as a consultant I would write report after report and agree with you that even though meetings were held, discussions had, invoice paid, the report findings were more often than not never implemented. Blew my mind because it all seemed like a big waste of time in the end.

  68. catarinaalexon Says:

    Yes it's often a waste of time, isn't it, Tim.

  69. catarinaalexon Says:

    Spot on, Debra. And it's not only governments that are into reports, unfortunately:-)

  70. catarinaalexon Says:

    Absolutely, Lenie. But it's much easier – and safer – to set up a committee. If they take action they can, after all, fail:-)

  71. catarinaalexon Says:

    Exactly, Donna. But for some reason people are afraid of acting. Compiling a report is an easy way of avoiding failure:-)

  72. Susan P Cooper Says:

    Your post reminds me of a show I was watching a few weeks back about the Dymaxion House, which was supposed to be THE house of the future after WWII, but now only one exists in the Henry Ford museum in Michigan. Why? Because they could never stop running reports, making changes, the timing was never just perfect, the project was never just right, etc. Until it simply failed. There has to be a time to act, I agree, or nothing gets done. Good ideas are left in museums.

  73. Ken Dowell Says:

    Well said. I have seen so many reports about business initiatives or projects that could have been summarized in about three paragraphs, but that stretch on ad nauseam. My favorite line in this post: "What happened to common sense?"

  74. Pat Amsden Says:

    I think too often reports are used as an excuse not to do anything when it comes to governments. Business tends to spend less time on reports probably because they want to take advantage of money making opportunities if they're avail or get on to something that is if they aren't.
    My recent post Welcome To The New Old West and Jacqui Nelson

  75. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad we agree about the importance of acting, Susan.

  76. catarinaalexon Says:

    Interesting that you like what I wrote about common sense, Ken. Common sense has been replaced by fear of failing. It's much safer to write a report. .

  77. catarinaalexon Says:

    If it was only governments writing reports it wouldn't be so bad, Pat. But unfortunately a lot of businesses are doing it as well. Above all multinationals.

  78. andleebakhlaqkhan Says:

    You are absolutely right when you said ” Postponing action is losing time and money”. I am in teaching from last ten years and have worked in different places and came across many reports for each and every thing. But has hardly saw any action on conclusions.
    Many trees pay the price to fill the folders with printed pages and lot of money is paid to the analysis and no action for improvement at all. One analysis goes in files and a new comes even without the implementation of first. This is how we are moving , without action.

  79. Chery Says:

    I left the corporate world where this report writing you speak of wasted more dollars than if they just acted with good business sense. Nicely said Catarina.
    My recent post #Halloween Costumes for Adult Couples #BBNshops

  80. angelabhobbs2009 Says:

    There’s too much concern for keeping up appearances and making things look professional and effective. Whether it really is professional and effective on the inside or not. It’s not just businesses either. The concern does need to be redirected to productivity and growth. Very nicely put, Catarina!

  81. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree with me, Andleeb.

  82. catarinaalexon Says:

    Thank you, Cheryl.

  83. catarinaalexon Says:

    Agree with you, Angela.

  84. JeriWB Says:

    The US does indeed like to devote copious amounts of time to bogus paperwork, but at least someone somewhere gets the satisfaction of checking a meaningless box. So much time is spent on reports and evaluations and it’s largely for naught as your post makes clear. It’s like we must quantify everything in this day and age. It’s hard to manage at times and easy to get bogged down.

  85. catarinaalexon Says:

    Spot on, Jeri.

  86. pgc4950 Says:

    I totally agree with this. I’d like to add meetings that start with no real agenda and end with no actions.Meetings often question,”What are you going to do?” instead of “What are you doing” Taking action starts a momentum, like a ball rolling down a hill, it begins to move faster toward the goal. You’re right in saying the conditions are never perfect…my grandmother used to say. “are you going to pick up your bags and start walking or wait for the bus that never comes.”

  87. niekkamcdonald Says:

    I agree there is a lack of common sense when it comes to action. Often times there is also a redundancy of work and no one is open to change.

  88. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree with me Niekka.

  89. catarinaalexon Says:

    Glad you agree with me that we need to take more action, Pamela.

  90. Haley Gray Says:

    So true. I think that so many times people dither themselves into oblivion. Why is it that we do that to ourselves? Really? I find myself many times reserving judgement about people until after I see what they can do, versus what they talk about doing.

  91. catarinaalexon Says:

    When I was a teenager a friend of mine had moved to Los Angeles. Asked him what plans he had and he answered that he would let me know when he had done something because it's easy to talk:-) Haley, that's basically what you write and it's so true. Talk about what you are going to do is, as you say, easy. Doint it takes more courage and drive.

  92. Marquita Herald Says:

    Well said! I am an author and solopreneur now but my last corporate job was with a company that specialized in spewing one report after another and meetings for the sake of meetings. Still I can't fault the company culture too much, after all it was the catalyst for me to finally go out on my own. :-)
    My recent post Stepping Stones: Doing Little Things Greatly

  93. catarinaalexon Says:

    It's a huge difference between small companies and huge corporations when it comes to writing reports isn't it., Marquita.

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